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10 reasons your not a copywriter

In these lean times of economic turmoil, budgets are being slashed to ribbons yet project scopes continue to be loaded with every new shiny tactic. With this obvious disproportionate distribution of funds to workload, something has to give.

Unfortunately, one of the first activities to get the "boot" is copywriting.

Too many clients, vendors and even the occasional agency sometimes consider copywriting a furbelow and some companies are opting to take cheaper short-cuts* rather than hire competent, skilled professional writers who know just how to make those seemingly innocuous little words really do their job.

So let's get started. You're not a copywriter because...

1. You missed the glaring typo in the headline of this article.

Yup, tricked a lot of you before we even started. Your and you're. There and their. These common errors litter our less than literary landscape. In our digital age of empowerment, too many of us, myself included, rely heavily on technology to catch our faults. Computers are smart, but not that smart. A good copywriter hates these seemingly innocent, yet incredibly frustrating grammatical errors. Typos are amateurish at best—my writing is full of them—and any semi-decent copywriter does their best to stamp them out.

2. Writing every day doesn't mean you know how to write.

I write every day. Emails, creative briefs, proposals, presentations, articles, and even the occasional headline, but I am not a copywriter. Sure, I can use Microsoft Word. I even own some fancy pens and notebooks. But when it comes to writing, I mean really writing, I'm just a hack**. I can get by in a pinch, but I don't enjoy it. It is just something that I have to do to get my work done.

3. You had to look up the meaning of Furbelow.

Yes, admittedly it's a 50-cent word. And while I really did enjoy its relevant usage (a furbelow is something that can be showy or superfluous), it was a flowery choice to say the least. But needless to say, the point is that well-crafted writing doesn't stay within a set, limited vocabulary. Copywriters collect words, like arrows in a quiver, so they can utilize them when the need arises. This allows them to write, and write well, for a variety of situations, subjects, tones and audiences.

4. You don't know the difference between a hyphen, en dash or em dash.

Sure, this is just punctuation, but punctuation is the framework, the foundation if you will, of great writing. Punctuation controls the clarity and the intonation of the written word. That is pretty important when you are attempting to communicate a thought or persuade a customer into action. If your copy doesn't flow, if it isn't easy to read, if it's too difficult to understand or isn't compelling, then it doesn't matter what it actually says. Now for those of you who actually care: A hyphen is used for word breaks, as in a compound usage (up-to-date, six-year-old, etc.). An en dash is used to express a range of values or a distance (50–88 or SFO–NYC). And an em dash is used to separate two abrupt thoughts (review this article for usage). And yes, I had to look that up.

5. You don't really care about words.

I mean really care about words. You must have a passion for them. Labor over them. Cherish them. Copywriters love words, how they look, sound and feel on your tongue. How they work with other words. How when you string them together in different ways the same words can function and communicate in entirely new ways. Good copywriters cherish this shit. Great copywriters master this shit and make words do things things the rest of us literary Luddites dumbly marvel at.

6. My penchant for run-on sentences doesn't bother you.

I write like I talk: Long and fast. This leads to sentence fragments, or worse: very long, often overly-wordy, mutiple-thought sentences that are strung together with vaguely appropriate punctuation, cheap syntax and subpar grammar. This old dog isn't ready to learn any new tricks, but a professional copywriter knows that this self-indulgent habit doesn't make anyone, other than perhaps this author, happy.

7. You don't own a dictionary and a thesaurus.

These are the tried-and-true tools of the trade. Often accompanied by other books like the MLA Handbook and the Chicago Manual of Style (I have owned both of these tomes and never cracked their spines). A true writer cares about the art of writing and surrounds themselves with the tools they need to master their craft. Using spell-check and dictionary.com is not only lazy, but often not as effective.

8. Rewriting seems laborious.

No one, I repeat, no one writes the perfect sentence, phrase, or paragraph the first time around. Good writing takes editing. Editing means more than just correcting the typos and poor grammar. It means rewriting. Sometimes 10 or more times. I always marvel at a copywriters ability and tenacity to provide 30 variations of a single headline. That is dedication. I can tell you right now, I didn't write this blog post more than once. I probably should have but come on... I've got other things I'd rather do.

9. You don't read for pleasure.

"But I read for pleasure," you indignantly scoff. So do I (both the reading and the scoffing). But I read Rolling Stone and comic books. Writers read everything.  Novels, manuals, articles, stereo instructions, warranty cards, hell, they even read those thick-ass research documents that client's provide and account people love handing out (I skim 'em). But copywriters actually read them—and enjoy it. They love finding tidbits; little straws of knowledge that they can later spin into piles gold. They read these loose pages of content like the pages are on fire. And more importantly, they actually digest, organize and retain this information. 

10. You were hired to do a different job.

You've probably got a ton of other things you should be doing rather than "playing" copywriter. I know I do. And if all my writers are tied-up, and I have to step in to do my adequate version of their job, it takes all day. I don't have all day. This means either my copy is going to suffer or something else is. I marvel at how many non-writers it takes to write something that resembles a shadowy similarity to copy written by a copywriter who knows what they're doing.

Example: we recently had an internal project when all of our writers were preoccupied with client work. It took four non-writers twice the amount of time to beat the words into submission as it would have taken just one of our gifted writers to elegantly, and seemingly effortlessly, complete the task. The old adage, "use the right tool for the job" has never seemed more relevant.

So, the long and the short of it is this: When you need words to say something intelligent and meaningful in a succinct and target-appropriate fashion: hire a god-damn copywriter, or let me do it for you. They are worth every penny.

*short-cuts:
Write it yourself.
Get someone, anyone on your staff to write it.
Get the intern to write it—She has a degree in English Literature!
Out-source it to cheap, paid by the word, vendors.
"Rewrite" some copy you "found" online.

**While it may appear that I am more than just a "hack;" it is because of my talented editor Jenna and the extraordinary effort she goes through to make my writing palatable.

Theo Fanning ECD

Theo is an illustrator and filmmaker by design, a designer and copywriter by necessity, and his office is living proof that vintage tin toys and crystal skulls can live harmoniously with deer heads and silver emulsion photo cells.